Last year, CNET traveled to San Marcos, California, for an early, behind-the-scenes look at a new generation of artificially intelligent sex robots from Abyss Creations, maker of the popular "RealDolls" line of customizable sex dolls.
Now, customers can expect to start receiving those same sexbots within the next month.
So says Abyss Creations founder and chief designer Matthew McMullen in a recent video interview with a RealDoll enthusiast and Harmony beta tester who goes by "Brick Dollbanger." In the interview, McMullen says fully equipped AI sex robots should start shipping in September, which matches what a spokesperson for Abyss Creations subsidiary Realbotix told me earlier this week.
McMullen also said putting the final touches on his company's new creations has proven to be "a little more difficult than we anticipated."
Those touches include a new feature called "X-Mode." It uses sensors in the robot's headboard to enable it to respond to things like movement and touch with unique sounds and expressions beyond the basic facial movements and lip syncing we experienced in San Marcos last year.
There's not a whole lot to see yet, but you can get a look at X-Mode in action at the Realbotix lab in San Marcos by clicking here -- just be warned the video is slightly NSFW.
RealDolls typically sell for at least a few thousand dollars, with custom-built designs often going for substantially more. One RealDoll owner I spoke to last year who went through multiple redesigns before finally settling on the perfect face for his doll said his purchase ultimately cost $17,000.
A talking robotic head equipped with the AI Harmony platform, the sensory headboard and motorized servos capable of moving the neck, jaw, mouth and eyes, costs $10,000 on its own (roughly £7,775, or AU$13,650), and can be transplanted onto existing dolls as an upgrade.
"This has taken quite a bit longer than I thought, but you come into these things not knowing everything and you learn as you go," McMullen says. "I think getting all of these bells and whistles to work here at the end is going to be well worth the wait."
In addition to X-Mode, McMullen is promising users a completely revamped version of the Harmony app, currently available for Android devices only. For a $25 yearly subscription fee, the app essentially lets users chat with a virtual RealDoll running on the same AI platform that powers the company's sex robots (you can read more about our experiences testing the Harmony app).
The incoming additions to the app include new avatar and gameplay options like an in-app store where you can purchase outfits or gifts for your avatar, or unlock additional content, as well as improvements to the AI, the graphics and the interface.
"We have plans to have 15 layers of AI, one layer adding more advances to the previous one," Guile Lindroth, Realbotix artificial intelligence and content director, said. "We are currently on the fourth level."
With its focus on crafting app and AI-enabled smarts for RealDolls, Realbotix has long promised to bring the Harmony app to iOS users too, but doing so will require accommodating Apple's App Store review guidelines, which prohibit "overtly sexual or pornographic material."
To that end, Realbotix plans to release a PG version of the app called "Realdoll X" with the nudity and X-rated chat options stripped out. Android users will be able to add the adult content back in via the Realbotix website, while iOS users will have to access the adult content using companion software on their computer. Realbotix expects the new app and software to launch in October, Lindroth says.
Other upgrades are in the works, too, including augmented- and virtual-reality applications that would let app users interact with their avatar in virtual space, no doll necessary. A male version of the AI platform named "Henry" is also already up and running on robotic male heads at the Realbotix offices, with the team currently working to adapt the scripted Harmony content for Henry's purposes.
"Hopefully, we will start to accept preorders for the male robotic head by the beginning of 2019," Lindroth says.
As for the robotic heads, McMullen hopes to have everything finished much sooner.
"We're looking at about the end of August to get our first working setup of all those parts, meaning the new app with the X-Mode talking to the headboard, with the sensory integration and being able to get some expressions and sounds out of the robot," McMullen says.
"We should be able to start shipping heads right after that."
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